Why I waited ten years to sign up for a writing course.

The first writing class I signed up for I told myself I could leave in the middle if it sucked. And I told myself it would definitely suck because who would want to be in a writing group if they were letting me in? So I didn’t go to the class. In fact, I found a lot of writing classes that looked good. And I found a lot of reasons to not go to them.

Studies show that high performers thrive on feedback. If you want to know what you’re good at, ask yourself: what would you like to hear feedback about? I was so excited to hear feedback about my writing, so why did it take me ten years to actually show up to a writing course?

It’s not fear of failure. We can imagine failure just like we can imagine success, so it’s predictable. But whatever is in between failure and success is hard to imagine; fear of what we can’t imagine is what causes inaction. I know that was true for me with my first writing class.

I’ve found that facing the gap between failure and success takes practice, like lifting weights. If you lift weights you’re tearing your muscle which is kind of gross but it’s the only way to get a bigger muscle. And if you try something new you might feel lost and incompetent for a bit, but that’s the only way to get better at anything.

When I started selling the year-long writing course I had very little sense of what I’d do to make it work. I wanted to get to know people better but I worried a year of Penelope is too much for anyone, and people would write terrible things about me online and say the course sucked.

The course turned out to be so good that I am having a whimsical weekend workshop at my apartment for all the people who signed up for a second year. It’s a big deal for me to invite people to my apartment without charging them any money. I’m nervous because I never do this. But that’s what they thought when they signed up for the course. Which is probably why I like them: their bravery. It sucks to not be certain where you are going and when you’ll succeed. But it sucks more to not try something new.

At the beginning of the course, I did live videos for common how-to-write topics: character, plot, dialogue, etc. Then I started doing obscure how-to-write topics. And the more quirky the topics were, the more popular the videos were.

Making the weekly video is a lot like writing on my blog, except the video is live and when my kids need something from me they show up on screen. Also, I don’t self-edit in the video so I take intellectual risks I wouldn’t normally take in a blog post.  I don’t know exactly what I will do with this library of how-to-write videos I’m amassing, but the intimate nature of video inspires me, and I’m grateful that I’m not alone while I’m in that in-between stage of not failing and not succeeding.

In the meantime, here is one of my favorites. And, if you sign up for the course you’ll get access to last year’s archive: sometimes gut-splitting, sometimes heart-wrenching, always a surprise, even to me.

7 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I enjoyed the video. I now have a much better appreciation of how much art affects and informs your writing. Also the photo above and the video are a good fit together with this post. When I read – “I don’t know exactly what I will do with this library of how-to-write videos I’m amassing, but the intimate nature of video inspires me, and I’m grateful that I’m not alone while I’m in that in-between stage of not failing and not succeeding.” – I think the same can be said for homeschooling or schooling for that matter. Parents in a homeschooling setting and teachers in a school. Not failing and not succeeding because the results are not in. The education of the student is still a work in progress.

  2. Cassandra Dunn
    Cassandra Dunn says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Thank you for sharing this video. It’s terrific and is a window into the experience of taking your course. I have been following you blog(s) for over a decade. You have inspired and taught me so much. I can’t commit to the course due to work and other education I am pursuing. I will try to clear my calendar in the hope you will offer it again next year. Your blogs have been an inspiration in my life and I have learned much. The most important lesson is bringing my whole, authentic self to all of my endeavors. Thank you for sharing your whole, authentic self with us.

  3. Steve
    Steve says:

    I liked your video. You’re quite different from what I imagined. In a good way. But what’s do the yellow armbands mean? The ones the Marshall’s are wearing as they escort Ruby to school…

  4. Janis
    Janis says:

    I signed up for a second year and am looking forward to the whimsical weekend!

    What Penelope describes is accurate. I was terrified when I started – of failing, of succeeding, and everything in between. In that first year, I’ve come such a long way. I write daily, I share my work with others, I’ve submitted for publication. These are huge things for me. Penelope’s comments are insightful, frustrating and always useful. And all the lectures are really great. This was definitely a good one, but so was the one about her plates.

    I had no idea what to expect when I first signed up for the course, but I do know I’m a better, more confident writer with a much clearer voice.

  5. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Your writing is like an interesting tapestry from a . Depending on the time/state of your life, it changes. I always learn something… if only a different perspective. I wish I had you as a teacher when I was coming up.


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